Entrance exam interviews can be a daunting part of the process, that represent a ‘make or break’ final moment your child may have been building towards for years. There are two important thing to remember. The first is that you absolutely can prepare your child, by ensuring they have the confidence to be themselves and to discuss their interests, and also to answer both personal and academic questions in an unfamiliar environment. The second is that the schools know exactly what kind of student they are looking for. Your child will never fail an interview; rather an interviewer will come to the conclusion that student and school are not a good fit.
Below are tips for parents on preparing their children for entrance exam interviews (10+ and above), and also advice for students to help them understand the interview process a little better.
Parents are often told not to prepare their children for entrance exam interviews, but what schools actually mean by this is don’t prepare them incorrectly. Memorising advanced answers, pretending to have impressive ambitions… these are not helpful.
How can parents help their children?
The two most important things you can do are talk to your children, and give them new experiences. Push them to think about the things they see, to understand why people behave as they do, and to explain their own views and opinions. Encourage them to read fiction and non-fiction, to watch films and documentaries, and to take up interesting hobbies. Not just for the sake of it, but to help them discover interests that they are passionate about.
Pretending to be someone you’re not, reciting pre-prepared answers then being unable to explain yourself, are not things schools want. A good interview will take the form of a discussion. It is a conversation, guided by your interviewer, whose aim is to test for various skills and attributes that would make you a promising addition to their school. This is not an assessment of your intellect, or a ‘test’. Social skills and maturity are important, as are a willingness to learn and engagement with the world around you. A bad interviewer (or a very tired one!) may simply read questions off a sheet and record your answers without looking at you, so be prepared for this, but a good interviewer will want to find out more about you, so be prepared to discuss and explain your interests, and to talk about current affairs, art, music and literature.
How can students help themselves?
Reading is the most important thing you can do. If you don’t enjoy reading, get your parents or tutor to help you find books that you’ll actually find interesting. These can be non-fiction or fiction, but the most important thing is to read widely, and to enjoy the books you read. Reading is the single best way of improving your comprehension skills, your writing, and your vocabulary and understanding of grammar. If you do enjoy reading, that’s brilliant! I bet you’re already good at English then. You can improve even more by reading a range of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and having a go at reading more difficult fiction (19th century classics like Great Expectations for example).
Learn more about the world around you. Subscribe to the National Geographic magazine, watch documentaries on TV, read a broadsheet newspaper like the Telegraph or Guardian, and talk to your parents, teachers and tutors about the things you learn. It’s important to have an idea of what is happening in the world, and interviewers often want to discuss these things to see if you understand them and have an opinion.
Develop your interests. This means do more of the things you like doing, but also research them online, watch films and documentaries about them, go to museum exhibitions about them – anything at all to help you learn more about what you find interesting.
How can Winterwood help?
We encourage students constantly to explore their interests, and to discuss these in a mature and insightful way. Our tutors also tend to have subject-specific degrees, so your English tutor for example will have at least one English degree if not an MA and PhD also, and therefore possess the literary knowledge to guide students’ reading and open up a whole new world of books and poetry for them.
In the lead up-to interviews, we will conduct mock interviews to give students an idea of the format and the type of questions they may be asked. We’ll help to ensure they don’t misinterpret the questions, that they understand the purpose of different questions (what interviewers are hoping to learn about students from specific questions), and make suggestions for independent reading and research.
Many of our tutors also attended the schools we are helping students apply to, so we have an insight into the environment there and what that school is looking for. A number of our part-time tutors additionally work as actors, so are in a particularly good position to make these sessions fun! It is not every day that younger children are encouraged to talk about themselves in such detail, so our students tend to find interview preparation an enjoyable process.
By Jade Everingham